When the State Department recently released its “2018 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices,” China figured prominently in its findings—but not in a good way.
The annual report, issued March 13, shines a harsh spotlight on China and its various human rights abuses, including religious persecution, internment of Uighurs in re-education camps, and increased surveillance of its citizens.
Many assumed that China’s rapid economic transformation would have led automatically to improvements in civil liberties and human rights. Instead, China has become more oppressive.
What is taking place today in Xinjiang looks a lot like Mao Zedong’s Cultural Revolution. And in modern China, the state is equipped with far more advanced and invasive technology to achieve its totalitarian aims.
The State Department report highlighted a number of China’s draconian practices. The report describes China’s crackdown on “extremism,” which resulted in the “detention since 2017 of 800,000 to possibly more than [2 million] Uighurs, ethnic Kazakhs, and other Muslims in ‘transformation through education’ centers.”
These “re-education centers” are designed to instill patriotism and fidelity to the state above ethnic and religious loyalty. These practices were labeled among the worst abuses “since the 1930s.”
In its 2018 regulations on religious affairs, China conflates all religion with extremism and sees religious fasting, praying, and abstaining from alcohol in the same light.
To monitor for those behaviors, China uses various forms of surveillance, including internet monitoring, video surveillance, and a “double-linked” household system, in which citizens are encouraged to spy on one another.
Beyond the repression of minority and religious groups, draconian surveillance efforts affect all Chinese citizens.
The State Department report notes the continued application and development of a “social credit system,” which monitors “academic records, traffic violations, social media presence, quality of friendships, adherence to birth-control regulations, employment performance, consumption habits, and other topics.”
As the system becomes more advanced, the government has become more aggressive in implementing repercussions. Chinese state media claims that 11 million air-travel trips have now been “blocked” due to citizens’ low “social credit” scores.
The report also examines China’s newest efforts at internet suppression, including the creation of the Cyberspace Administration of China, which shut down an estimated 128,000 websites in 2017. Additionally, platforms such as Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as any information on topics on Taiwan, the Dalai Lama, and the 1989 Tiananmen Square massacre are all banned from the internet.
It’s now estimated the government employs tens of thousands of individuals to restrict and monitor internet content, as well as to promote state propaganda.
China’s internet influence extends beyond its borders and has far-reaching ramifications for its relations with other nations.
Recently, Mercedes-Benz was forced to apologize to Chinese consumers after quoting the Dalai Lama in an Instagram post. Instead of Western companies exerting influence over China to liberalize its totalitarian system, we see the very opposite occurring as Delta Air Lines and Spanish fashion retailer Zara were compelled to apologize to China after listing Tibet, Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan as countries independent from China.
This influence likewise extends to Hollywood, where the influence of Chinese censors has led to script changes in multiple blockbuster movies, so as to steer clear of topics politically sensitive in China.
Conversely, China seems to have no problem producing movies that seek to promote Chinese foreign policy and anti-American sentiment. An example of this is the Chinese box office record-breaker “Wolf Warrior II,” which contains highly anti-American content and is essentially China’s version of Sylvester Stallone’s anti-Soviet Russia “Rambo” series in the 1980s.
Due to China’s large and dynamic global economy, technological advances, and influence over foreign investors, Beijing has been able to take its level of state control of citizens to the next level.
Additionally, because of the success of its pseudo-communist economy on the world stage, other nations have been forced to submit to its strict censorship laws.
The U.S. should consider carefully steps it can take to hold China accountable for the severe human rights violations taking place—not only because it’s the right thing to do, but because if left unchecked, Beijing’s draconian policies will continue to impede freedom far beyond its borders.
Shane McCrum is a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.
Olivia Enos is an Asian Studies Center Research Associate within The Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy at The Heritage Foundation.
Editor's Note: This piece was originally published by The Daily Signal.